The Boogeyman review: chilling and effective horror

Sophie Thatcher in The Boogeyman.
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With Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman, director Rob Savage proves himself a safe pair of hands for studio horror.

2020’s lockdown-set screen-life chiller Host instantly put British director Rob Savage on the horror map. As Host gradually traumatised people across the globe, Savage was inundated with offers from big studios. Though his sophomore feature Dashcam sparked more notoriety for its choice of protagonist than its scare factor, it didn’t stop Savage from landing a dream project, adapting Stephen King short story The Boogeyman.

Like 2022’s Smile, The Boogeyman was initially destined for a straight to streaming release. However, after testing well, and receiving a rapturous reaction from King himself, those plans were shelved and the film now arrives in UK cinemas this week.

Though based on King’s story (which can be found in the collection Night Shift), writers Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman use King’s source as a jumping off point. Both characters from the book, Lester Billings and Doctor Harper, are present, their interaction serving as the catalyst for what follows.

Whilst King’s story ends at the end of Lester and Harper’s therapy session, The Boogeyman shifts attention to Doctor Will (Chris Messina) and his two daughters, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair). Having recently suffered a death in the family, they are the ideal fodder for the malevolent shadow demon that Lester (David Dastmalchian) warns Will about. Whilst Will dismisses these delusions, his daughters soon find themselves tormented by a presence dwelling within the darkness of Sawyer’s bedroom closet.

During their session, Lester describes what he calls ‘The Boogeyman’ as “the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention.” His words perfectly surmise the parental warning that both King’s writing and Savage’s movie are steeped in. The Boogeyman opens with a chilling, and confronting, loss of innocence. This haunting moment affirms to the audience that no one in this world is safe and in doing so places them immediately on edge.

After this bold beginning, Savage takes time getting to know the Harpers. Unable to deal with his daughters in the wake of his wife’s death, Will has thrown himself into his work, leaving teenager Sadie to become a surrogate mother to her younger sister. The handling of the grieving process and differing attitudes and reactions grounds The Boogeyman. Aided by a stunning performance by Sophie Thatcher as the emotionally adrift Sadie, Savage’s portrayal of disconnection in the wake of bereavement feels authentic and builds a wonderfully rich emotional well.

Horror movies always work best when there is a strong connection between audience and protagonist, and the Harpers are intricately constructed, and so their inevitable downfall tears the viewer apart.

Host is the current holder of the title of scariest film as tested by science and so it’s no surprise that the scare sequences in The Boogeyman are all potent with malice. Savage expertly toys with audience expectations, shifting from traditional jump scares to unanticipated bursts of malevolence. Unlike others in the studio genre, Savage is careful not to heavily signpost all of his scare moments, though the trailer does somewhat spoil a large proportion of these sneakier instances.

The tension that Savage can create in a single scene has to be commended. The Boogeyman is a dark film and Savage wrings maximum dread with some tortuous shadow play. An early sequence involving the youngest member of the Harper family is a perfect example of Savage’s talents at both creating terrifying imagery and subverting genre conventions.

The creature itself is a nightmarish apparition, though its clear artificial CG creation renders it impotent of reaching its full terror potential. Instead, the entity works best when it’s either glimpsed within the darkness, or heard behind doors. The latter works exceptionally well, the eerie and distorted sounds attacking the viewer across multiple senses. What makes this being so frightening is the lore that surrounds it. As children almost all cultures have a version of the boogeyman, and Savage taps into that primal fear of the dark and unknown, manipulating it just enough that there will be plenty sleeping with the lights on after viewing.

As expertly crafted as the scary elements are, The Boogeyman isn’t quite the home-run that Host was. In an attempt to further build out the character of Sadie, and build in a recurring King theme, there’s a subplot involving the teenager’s group of ‘friends’. Their inclusion doesn’t add enough to the overall narrative arc to be warranted. They’re merely generic mean girls inserted for no worthwhile reason. Time spent with these girls bloats the runtime slightly and thus The Boogeyman isn’t as tightly paced as Savage’s debut.

Easily the director’s biggest project to date, with The Boogeyman Rob Savage proves himself as a safe pair of hands for studio horror. A film about a beast that feeds on literal tendrils of fear, Savage provides a plentiful bounty of frights for horror fans whilst still managing to engage and somewhat tug on the emotions. Solid, effective and sure to cause sleepless nights, The Boogeyman is destined to be another nightmare-fuelled hit.

The Boogeyman is in cinemas on 2nd June.

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